OPS Team Home Safe After Japan Horror

safe_after_japan_horror.jpgBoulder, CO, Nov. 12, 2007 - After documenting the dolphin and whale slaughter that runs from September to March each year, in Taiji, Japan, the 12-member Oceanic Preservation Society film team returns to their Boulder, CO studio. Their footage of an international group of professional surfers, actresses and other celebrities’ objection to the practice will be edited into the OPS film due for Summer 2008 release.

This was the sixth time filmmaker Louie Psihoyos has led a crew to the little-known “killing cove”in southern Japan, where the migrating mammals are herded into a shallow bay for slaughter. Shielded from view by towering cliffs, tarps, barrier fences, and hostile guards, about 2300 dolphins are speared locally. This represents one-tenth of the 23,000 dolphins killed around Japan for human consumption. In Taiji, the OPS film team used a variety of covert techniques to record the slaughter and was, yet again, trailed by local police and narrowly avoided arrest.

OPS initially planned to film a peaceful “paddle-out” or memorial ceremony organized by legendary waverider Dave Rastovich. “Dolphins are the original surfers,” says Rastovich, “they can school even the best of their human counterparts – I wanted to draw attention to their plight by holding a ceremony, this surfing ritual we do to honor a mate when they die.” Aside from his respect for dolphins as the ultimate surfer, Rastovich has a special affinity for dolphins, two days after forming his non-profit Surfers for Cetaceans; a bottlenose dolphin saved him and a mate from a tiger shark attack while he was surfing.

Rastovich and 30 of his fellow surfers from around the world had converged on the small fishing village, which had been alerted to their plans. The daily slaughter was suspended, yet the surfers proceeded. They paddled out to the empty cove, quietly held hands in a circle, honoring the spirits of the dead with prayers, threw flowers into the center of their circle and paddled back to the beach where a swarm of police had gathered to check their passports. The following day, however, word reached the OPS team and Rastovich as they were leaving the country that the whalers had resumed their practice – about 40 pilot whales were captured that afternoon. A swift, covert operation was deployed to repeat the memorial amongst a trapped pod of pilot whales and their calves. The OPS team managed and monitored the event. The now famous footage made headlines.

Six surfers, including Rastovich, his wife and mermaid model Hannah Fraser, Heroes TV star Hayden Panettiere, Australian actress Isabel Lucas, author Peter Heller and professional surfer, Karina Petroni attempted to paddle out to the surviving pod of pilot whales and their calves

Entering water already stained with blood, the surfers were prevented from reaching the creatures by the angry, violent whalers, who blocked their paths with whirling boat propellers, and a large pronged boat hook that is used to push whales around. The surfers were bruised, held their ceremony but were forced to retreat but within 24 hours. Footage of the disturbing scene, including Panettiere’s emotional collapse on shore, aired globally.

Despite international outcry, the whalers defend the practice, claiming dolphins are pests that deplete the fish stock. The dolphin meat, which tests confirm has toxic levels of mercury, is sold without warning labels in supermarkets alongside other seafood, in addition to being fed to children as part of school lunch programs.

Also, representatives of the captive dolphin industry often line the shore during capture, selecting healthy, attractive females for shipment for dolphinariums around the world. Valued at between $45,000 and $200,000 USD each, sales to dolphin shows and swim-with-dolphin programs perpetuate this form of commercial whaling.

The OPS film, working title Something’s In The Water, will be released Summer 2008.





Viki Psihoyos

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